The Supreme Court in March said that reservation to OBCs was only statutory, unlike the “constitutional” reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
The BJP in Maharashtra has demanded that the upcoming local body polls be postponed till the issue of reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is resolved and the quota is restored.
BJP national secretary Pankaja Munde after participating in an OBC conclave in Lonavala on Sunday demanded that the state government should prepare empirical data and present it in the Supreme Court within three to four months.
“The government should go to court to ensure that the upcoming local body elections are not held without providing protection to OBC reservation,” she said.
हे शिबीर निर्णय आणि निश्चयाचे आहे. 3-4महिन्याच्या आत empirical data तयार करून सर्वोच्च न्यायालयात सादर करावा. OBC च्या आरक्षणाला संरक्षण दिल्याशिवाय आगामी स्थानिक स्वराज्य संस्थांच्या निवडणूका होऊ न देण्यासाठी सरकारने न्यायालयात जावे
— Pankaja Gopinath Munde (@Pankajamunde) June 27, 2021
“In the past, elections were postponed several times due to various reasons. Therefore, elections to the local bodies should be put on hold till the OBC reservation issue is resolved,” the Indian Express quoted Munde as saying.
But why does Munde want the polls postponed? And what is the OBC reservation issue?
Here’s a look at the background:
Supreme Court judgment
The BJP-Shiv Sena government in 2019 had allotted political reservation to OBCs in local governing bodies, but on 4 March the Supreme Court read down Section 12(2)(c) of The Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961, terming it as an enabling provision. The apex court said that reservation to OBCs was only statutory, unlike the “constitutional” reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
According to The Indian Express, the court ruled that Section 12(2)(c), provides a 27 percent quota for persons belonging to backward classes, needs to be read down and may be invoked only after fulfilling three conditions, which include:
- Setting up of a dedicated Commission to conduct contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness qua local bodies in the state
- Specifying the proportion of reservation required for each local body in light of the Commission’s recommendations
- Lastly, the top court had said that the reservation if fixed, shall not exceed the aggregate of 50 percent of the total seats reserved for SC, ST and OBCs.
“In case, constitutional reservation provided for SCs and STs were to consume the entire 50 percent of seats in the concerned local bodies and in some cases in scheduled area even beyond 50 percent, in respect of such local bodies, the question of providing further reservation to OBCs would not arise at all,” the newspaper quoted a bench consisting of justices AM Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi as saying in the judgment.
The court also quashed the notifications issued by the state election commission in 2018 and 2020 which provided reservations exceeding 50 percent in local bodies of some districts.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the state had filed an appeal against the SC verdict, which was quashed by the court in the last week of May.
What were the implications and effects of the SC order?
- No local body polls till commission’s recommendations
According to The Hindustan Times, state election commissioner UPS Madan said the judgment is going to be applicable for all local bodies, including urban and rural.
“It means the verdict would be applicable for the upcoming elections of local bodies. It also means no seat can be reserved for OBC communities until the state government completes the entire process of setting up a commission, who (sic) will go into details of OBC communities and then come up with recommendations on which local bodies should have how much OBC reservation,” the election commissioner said.
- Combined reservation not to exceed 50%
Even after that, the combined reservation of SC, ST and OBC communities will not be allowed to exceed the 50 percent cap, clarified Madan.
An official from the state election commission told the publication that OBC communities in those local bodies where the population of SC and STs is more, (OBC) communities will not be able to get 27 percent reservation even after the process is completed.
- OBC seats in some ZPs and Panchayat Samitis converted to open category
According to The Indian Express, SEC officials said that after the apex court order, all the OBC seats of the Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis, which were conducted subject to the outcome of the SC petitions, have been vacated and converted into open category. Fifty percent of these seats have been reserved for women from the open category.
What is the status of OBC enumeration?
The last caste-wise census was conducted in 1931. Based on the data from the 1931 census, the Mandal commission pegged the OBC population to be 52 percent and recommended a 27 percent reservation for them.
The 2011 Census data included data about the socio-economic caste census but the caste-based results have not been released.
In 2018, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Centre announced that OBC enumeration will be done in the 2021 census. However, according to an Economic Times report, MHA officials in 2019 said there will be no enumeration of OBC in the 2021 Census.
In January last year, the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly passed a resolution recommending the Centre to conduct an OBC caste-wise census, to find out the population of Other Backward Classes across the country.
When are the local body elections slated to be held?
The Maharashtra State Election Commission has decided to hold elections to five Zilla Parishads — Dhule, Nandurbar, Akola, Washim and Nagpur — and bypolls to the seats in 33 Panchayat Samitis that were rendered vacant and converted into general category following the SC verdict on 19 July. The counting of votes will be taken up on 20 July.
Polling for the Palghar Zilla Parishad and by-elections for the vacant seats in the panchayat samiti will be held after the improvement in the pandemic situation.
Besides, according to the HT report, five major municipal corporations are going to polls in 2021 and elections to ten other corporations and 27 district councils will be held this year.
BJP takes on MVA
The BJP has been trying to upstage the MVA government by leveraging the issue of OBC reservations. The saffron party has alleged that the SC case was lost only because of the inaction of the Shiv Sena-led MVA government, in which NCP and Congress are partners.
Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said he would bring back OBC reservations in local bodies within four months if the BJP is voted to power. “If I fail to give the OBC reservations, then, I will take permanent political sanyas (renunciation). The Maha Vikas Aghadi is responsible for this reservation mess in Maharashtra. The Uddhav Thackeray government is neither able to give reservation to the Maratha community nor the OBCs,” he alleged.
“The fact is that this issue can be resolved at the state level. The state government can restore the reservation by formulating a law. There is no need for any act of the Central government. That is why OBC reservation is prevalent in other states except in Maharashtra. You (MVA) will have to make a law. We will not stop until we expose their lie,” he said and appealed to the OBC ministers in the MVA government.
However, according to the New Indian Express report, NCP and Congress leaders have held the BJP responsible for the cancelation of the reservations. “While approving these decisions, Fadnavis did not follow the proper legal procedure and deliberately left the loopholes that were highlighted in the Supreme Court orders,” NCP leader Jayant Patil has said.
Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the government failed to present data when the decision on OBC reservation was challenged in the SC. “Because there was no survey done BJP keeps mum over it,” Sawant has alleged.
Recently the BJP’s Maharashtra unit also demanded that the MVA government should approach the Supreme Court immediately requesting a postponement of the Zilla Parishad bypolls in the five districts. Former state minister and BJP leader Chandrashekhar Bawankule said the state election commissioner refused the demand saying the polls will take place as per schedule because the SEC has been directed to do so.
“In such a situation, we demand that the MVA government immediately file a petition before the Supreme Court and postpone the elections. There is fear of a third wave due to highly virulent Delta-plus variant of COVID-19 . If the elections are conducted, it will deprive OBCs of their representation, as there is no quota for them,” he said.
Former minister and OBC leader Pankaja Munde, who led a protest in Pune, said if the BJP’s demands are not met, the party will launch bigger protests in future. Munde alleged the state government kept deferring various elections, including those in the cooperative sector, when the case regarding the OBC reservation was pending in the court, and it was only after the court scrapped the quota, the elections were announced.
“We are demanding that the OBC reservation be restored and till then no elections should be held. We want the government to approach the Election Commission along with us with a demand to postpone elections,” she said.
However, Munde’s demands echoes that of Maharashtra Social Welfare Minister Vijay Wadettiwar, who has also urged Thackeray to postpone all local self-government body polls due in the next few months in the state unless the issue of OBC reservation is resolved.
According to The Indian Expresshe had last week warned if the elections were not postponed, the OBC leaders in the state would “not allow them to take place”.
Wadettiwar had said Thackeray was “positive” about deferring the polls and expressed hope that a decision in the regard will be announced soon.
According to another report in the Express, Wadettiwar on Sunday claimed that the government will not provide manpower to the Election Commission to hold the elections.
What has the state government done so far?
According to the Indian Expressa delegation led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June and raised twelve key issues, including OBC reservation. Citing a statement from the CMO, the report said the SC verdict is likely to impact around 56,000 seats in all local bodies in the state.
The report said that Thackeray sought the 2011 census data which has a socio-economic caste census from the Centre, saying the data will be useful in deciding the OBC reservation. He requested Modi to ease the 50 percent limit for all SC, ST and OBC reservation in local bodies. The chief minister further requested Modi to amend the Constitution to grant “constitutional” status to OBC reservation.
According to the report, the state government appointed retired Justice Anand Nirgude as chairperson of Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes on 3 March and earlier in June, state minister Vijay Wadettiwar announced the names of the nine members who will be part of the Commission that was set up to collect empirical data on the OBC community.
With inputs from PTI